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How translatable are languages? Quantifying semantic alignment of natural languages.

November 16, 2018 @ 3:45 pm - 5:00 pm

Gary Lupyan will be speaking in HAMLET with Bill Thompson (Princeton) and Sean Roberts (Bristol) in room 338 at 3:45 PM Friday 11/16.

How translatable are languages? Quantifying semantic alignment of natural languages.

Do all languages convey semantic knowledge in the same way? If language simply mirrors the structure of the world, the answer should be a qualified “yes”. If, however, languages impose structure as much as reflecting it, then even ostensibly the “same” word in different languages may mean quite different things. We provide a first pass at a large-scale quantification of cross-linguistic semantic alignment of approximately 1000 meanings in 70+ languages. We find that the translation equivalents in some domains (e.g., Time, Quantity, and Kinship) exhibit high alignment across languages while the structure of other domains (e.g., Politics, Food, Emotions, and Animals) exhibits substantial cross-linguistic variability. Our measure of semantic alignment correlates with phylogenetic relationships between languages and with cultural distances between societies speaking the languages, suggesting a rich co-adaptation of language and culture even in domains of experience that appear most constrained by the natural world.

Details

Date:
November 16, 2018
Time:
3:45 pm - 5:00 pm